Chilly weather will chase you indoors after dinner al fresco, and low temperatures in the morning keep you from reading the newspaper on your front porch. So long as conditions remain on the cusp of comfortable and cold—and at least in the Northeast, doesn't that define autumn, and for that matter, early spring?—a quality patio heater lets you enjoy your outdoor living areas for more hours of the day.
Available in a variety of sizes and a multitude of designs, and suitable for a range of purposes, patio heaters are not the novelty they once were. Whereas you used to see them only at curbside cafés, patio heaters are now appearing with greater frequency on residential properties. For homeowners who love to entertain friends or share family moments on the patio or deck, the advent of patio heaters is indeed welcome.
If you are in the process of choosing a source of warmth, keep reading. We explain the ins and outs of today’s top models, and to find out why we’re calling the following five the best patio heater for most homes.
BEST ELECTRIC PATIO HEATER: Trustech Infrared Patio HeaterBEST PIT-STYLE PATIO HEATER: Outland Living Firebowl DeluxeBEST FLOOR-STANDING GAS PATIO HEATER: PAMAPIC Outdoor Patio HeaterBEST WOOD-BURNING PATIO HEATER: Solo Stove Wood-Burning FirebowlBEST TABLETOP PATIO HEATER: Bond Table Fire Pit
Key Considerations for Choosing the Best Patio HeaterFuel typesPropane: Propane patio heaters can warm up a space quickly. Some are quite big, holding a propane tank as large as 20 gallons—a boon when you wish to heat a large area for an extended period of time. Due to the risk of carbon monoxide buildup, a patio heater of this type should never be used in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse or garage.Electric: There's no need to buy fuel for an electric patio heater, but its bulbs must be replaced occasionally—factor this into its running costs. With no open flame, electric patio heaters may be safer than the alternative for some families. But they are usually smaller, so an electric may not match the power of its propane cousin. When shopping, compare the heat output of different models. Also, remember that an electric heater comes with a power cord; having at least one outdoor outlet is a plus, if not a prerequisite.Wood: For an authentic campfire feel, there’s nothing quite like a wood-burning patio heater. This type of heater can generate quite a bit of heat, depending on the size of the firebox and the amount of wood. Because wood fires can create smoke and ash, a wood-burning patio heater cannot be used in an enclosed patio. To reduce smoke, burn only seasoned hardwoods, such as hickory, birch, and white ash.StyleStand-alone: Most freestanding patio heaters are seven to eight feet tall; typically, the fuel source is at or near the bottom, and the heat emanates from the top. Available in electric or propane versions, these patio heaters can warm a 5- to 10-foot radius, which makes them a great option for yards and larger patios.Tabletop: Smaller than freestanding heaters, tabletop units must be secured to a patio table (usually through the hole where a sun umbrella would fit). Either electric or propane, they offer the advantage of portability but tend to be less powerful, making them well suited for smaller gatherings.Mounted: Whether wall- or ceiling-mounted, these patio heaters are, in most cases, infrared and electrically powered. They are excellent if you have limited floor space but wish to heat a larger area.Bear these considerations in mind when choosing a patio heater of any type.Have realistic expectations. Patio heaters are meant to ease the chill of cool weather. You are outdoors, not in a sauna! In very cold weather, they will not keep you warm very long.Give your patio heater some help. Since hot air rises, some heated air will be lost to the atmosphere, but you can conserve by placing your patio heater at a safe distance beneath an umbrella or awning. Avoid exposing a propane unit to wind, however, as breezes will make it difficult to light.Safety first. Always keep pets and children away from patio heaters, and consider only models that feature an automatic shutoff, which cuts the heat in the event that the unit gets knocked over.
Investing in a patio heater is an outstanding way to enhance your outdoor lifestyle. Breathe more fresh air. Hear more crickets. See more stars. And stay comfy cozy while you're at it.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST ELECTRIC PATIO HEATER: Trustech Infrared Patio Heater ($209.99)
Enjoy the sounds of nature. With the Trustech Infrared Patio Heater, there’s no fan and no noise to disrupt from whispered conversation or birdsong. The Trustech features radiant heat—similar to that of the sun—to warm objects in front of it rather than warming the air as other types of patio heaters do. This makes the 4.5-star patio heater from Trustech a good choice for breezy days when the heated air from a gas or wood heater would be blown away. And, because it won’t produce fumes or smoke, it can also be used indoors or in an enclosed patio. The Trustech stands 31.7 inches high, and comes with a remote control and adjustable heat settings. You’ll need an extension cord or an exterior outlet to plug in the heater. Available from Amazon.
2. BEST PIT-STYLE PATIO HEATER: Outland Living Firebowl Deluxe ($107.14)
The Outland Living Firepit will keep a crowd of folks warm during outdoor events when there’s a nip in the air. It comes with a 10-foot propane hose, so you can position your propane tank out of sight while you enjoy the lava rocks and glowing flames inside this rustic firebowl. Measuring just 11 inches high and 19 inches in diameter and weighing in at 22 pounds, this patio heater is compact and portable—its cover and carrying straps prepare it to take to a neighbor’s party. Available from Amazon.
3. BEST FLOOR-STANDING GAS PATIO HEATER: PAMAPIC Outdoor Patio Heater ($159.99)
This floor-standing heater tops out at an impressive 88 inches tall and with a 32-inch overhead dome that directs heat downward and outward. Though it may look narrow, its coverage is far—up to 18 feet in diameter around the heater. Available in white, bronze, or hammered silver, this 4.7-star patio heater achieves its sleek style by keeping its fuel tank tucked neatly into a built-in chamber in the heater’s base. Smooth-rolling wheels make it portable when not in use, and a waterproof cover will protect the tall patio heater from the elements. Available from Amazon.
4. BEST WOOD-BURNING PATIO HEATER: Solo Stove Wood-Burning Firebowl ($295.99)
Break out the marshmallows! With the Solo Stove Wood-Burning Firebowl, you can have your own backyard bonfire without the need for propane or an extension cord. The 4.7-star Solo Stove burns real wood (seasoned hardwood varieties are recommended), and its specially perforated double-wall design both allows more oxygen to enter the firebowl and reduces smoke output. At 14 inches high by 19.5 inches in diameter, this modern stainless steel firebowl is ready to travel (carrying case included) to wherever you desire a real wood fire. Available from Amazon.
5. BEST TABLETOP PATIO HEATER: Bond Table Fire Pit ($86.97)
Even small decks and patios can enjoy the heat and flickering light of a patio heater through the petite Bond Table Fire Pit. Positioned on top of a patio table, the Bond fire pit serves as a glowing centerpiece, complete with real flames and welcome warmth. Lava glass rocks disperse the flames and create a dancing flame effect. This 4.5-star tabletop fire pit measures just 14.4 inches long and 8.1 inches wide—narrow enough to not crowd out dinner plates—and its metal frame attaches to a standard umbrella hole in a patio table and supports a 1-lb. propane tank (camping size) out of sight beneath the tabletop. Available from Amazon.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Noonan.